Living Presence Response: A Description of the Ineffable?

 

 

This post was written before and subsequently posted after the previous one. This explains any anachronisms that appear in the text.

In my previous-but-one post, I started by describing how the reconstruction of a narrative by its very nature is at best an approximate endeavour. The description of a past reality in and of itself is in all probability a chimera made of many parts pieced together as best as one can with the sensory and intellectual tools at one’s disposal. This is the main thrust of Donald Hoffman’s thesis that proposes the impossibility to see the world as it really is. He explains that we experience reality in terms of ‘fitness payoff’ and that this evolutionary pressure has shaped the way we perceive things in terms of what is the best way for us to survive in the world, not the most accurate description of it. So is a narrative a question of convenience and advantage?

Hoffman’s shift in the way the age old problem of describing reality is approached is another example of how contemporary paradigms are shifting and being replaced at an ever increasing rate. Thanks to an increasing knowledge base ever more accessible, the ability to bring together disparate areas of interest in one place has stimulated holistic approaches to almost every area of study. Crossing disciplines is essential if new insights are sought.

Alfred Gell’s revision of how artworks might function in society, is another example of seeing things differently. His book, Art and Agency singles out precisely the mechanism by which viewers interact with art as though the latter were similar to living beings. Gell sees this in terms of agency, i.e. influencing viewers to behave as though they were engaging with something alive rather than inanimate. An artwork lies within a context, a social environment or art nexus, as van Eck calls it. Van Eck puts it rather well: 

[Gell] considers objects of art not in terms of their formal or aesthetic value or appreciation within the culture that produced them. Neither does [he] consider them as signs, visual codes to be deciphered or symbolic communications. Instead, Gell define[s] art objects in performative terms as systems of actions, intended to change the world rather than encode symbolic propositions about it. Art works thus considered are the equivalents of persons, more particularly social agents.

Gell identified one mechanism by which viewers can be influenced as technical virtuosity. This presents something made in a way that is hard to comprehend, functioning as a form of ideal or magic. The key is that this thing  is achieves what viewers try to do in other areas. This technical virtuosity can take many forms and is not confined to the skill of carving or painting. 

This view of art as a performative agent is at first sight somewhat at odds with Richard Anderson’s view of skilfully encoding culturally significant meaning in a sensuous affecting medium. The skill element is common to both as is the significant meaning. However, in Anderson, emphasis is placed on encoding meaning, whereas Gell’s hypothesis sees agency as the main function for the art work.

Anderson in his anthropological idea is trying to bring together very disparate areas of creativity. In his book Calliope’s Sisters his examples are taken from across very different societies some of which do not recognise the idea of art. Gell’s approach is more art historical. Both Anderson and Gell are trying to identify art and its function in a way that does not fall into Western artistic paradigms of aesthetics and semiotics. Anderson’s hypothesis focuses on the semiotic content of an art object whereas Gell’s focuses on the mechanism by which an art object exerts influence. Gell’s idea is closer to Bayles and Orlando’s proposition that art changes the world in that he states that the agency of the object [or event] consolidates or reforms a world view in a social setting. This is very much the case in sacred contexts but also in the way art is perceived and responded to in secular white cube spaces to mention just one of many possible examples.  

Gell borrows from Peircian semiotics and TAG analysis and replaces terms such as object, meaning, interpreter, sign, signifier etc with words that are more readily applicable to the arts. 

  • Agency: the power to influence the viewer, this is mediated by the
  • Index: the material object that elicits responses
  • Prototype: the thing the index is representing. 
  • Artist: the immediate cause or author of the existence of the index and its properties
  • Recipients: those affected by the work or intended to be by the index.

Semiotics, structuralism and post-structuralism originally resided in the literary and anthropological domains. What this does is to slim down the complexities that arise when analysing work in terms of their function in a humanities context. Focus is placed on the visual arts aspect without losing contact with the humanities.  Most significantly, the term meaning is exchanged with prototype. This reminds me of the Jungian idea of archetypes. But rather than presenting as a Platonic overarching concept, the prototype can be specific to the index in question.

Prototype is an important departure from meaning because it enables the representation of something ineffable. The living presence of the object is enhanced by, in many cases dependent on, its social context. So the art object becomes the explanation of the ineffable rather than ‘the problem to be explained’. 1 Because of the social nexus, in appropriately reinforcing circumstances, the effect becomes proofed against rational explanation. A response mechanism is created that is emotional and volitional rather than rational and cognitive. 

These taxonomies are useful when attempting to disentangle relationships and the role of each player in the social nexus in which they are enmeshed. This system of analysis may be a helpful tool in confirming putative or identifying actual causal relationships between the art object its social, anthropological and psychological effects. This form of analysis has been used primarily in art historical context but I can see how I can apply it to tease out aims and objectives from intentions in artistic practice.

I see aims and objectives as analytical descriptions of process. They are the functional and purposeful surface ideas that have to be worked out, arrived at and articulated through cognitive processes. Intentions on the other hand are more deeply rooted. They lie beneath reason, often unrevealed or tacit. To find one’s intention is like holding one’s beating heart. It can be dangerous or bring well being, we often keep intentions well hidden inside the mind; somewhere deep in the brain. Intentions are tinder waiting to be lit. They can give light and warmth or burn everything to ashes. 

  1. Van Eck,[]

Living Presence Response

 

 

I was watching a video featuring the blue ringed octopus, a poisonous creature that warns would-be predators by the appearance of iridescent blue rings as part of a rapid colour change. Unusually bright colours in animals and plants are often protective warning signs that they are poisonous, a strategy used advantageously by innocuous opportunistic mimics. Equally, bright colours can also attract as part of courtship and mating in many animals as well as a means of plants encouraging the ingestion and subsequent dissemination of their seed. Animals respond to such cues just as we are attracted or repelled by colours, movement, smells and sounds. This raises the question, is there a correlation between the living presence response elicited by artworks and the way we respond to the natural world?

Gell, van Eck and others have looked at the phenomenon of living presence response from an art historical stance but it seems to me that a lot can be learnt from observing our responses to the natural world. Van Eck in Particular talks about the role of the sublime. The sublime as a topos has been written about copiously since the enlightenment, however, this is as much an area for behavioural and evolutionary psychologists as it is for those interested in art history and theory.  Responses of awe, terror, pleasure and overwhelming presence have been used by artists ever since people have been making things. Authors and facilitators have employed notions of scale, beauty and technical virtuosity to great effect. These are amongst a number of properties found in nature and religion. What could be more sublime than an idyllic landscape or an all encompassing deity whose beauty is such that it cannot be imagined let alone looked upon, maker of all the world?

Authors and enablers of art have often been motivated by the desire to possess at least a small piece of the cause for awe, sublimity, beauty and power through the facilitating and making of great works. And we raise such things to mythical heights, from the Sistine Chapel to the Pyramids. It is this close relationship between our emotional response to natural things and art objects that interests me: the reason we look upon certain art as though it were alive despite knowing it to be inanimate. We speak of such works as speaking to us, living, and we respond to them with emotions and thoughts that are close to those with which we react to animals, plants and indeed other human beings. We treasure them, often above other humans, and we make pilgrimages to see them in the hope of experiencing their purported transformative properties. Centres of power have long recognised this as self evident. 

Religious icons, large painting cycles, marble statues, tribal carvings and video installations vary in the way they create responses but all hold in common the desire for us to engage with them beyond cognitive interactions. The aim in such cases. to engender a gut reaction, a psychological jolt that brings us into an emotional-volitional nexus with it. This entanglement is most often set in a social context. The art object gives rise to a dialectic and perhaps consensus of its meaning and function. There is a toing and froing between the art object and the viewers of response, inference and rule making. In this way, the art work’s agency could be seen as not only being defined by social conventions and interactions but its characteristics which are then assimilated into the social nexus and become part of the way in which it is viewed. 

How this agency is created is largely the role of the artist. The artist’s charge is to imbue the work with sufficient information for the work to act with agency in its respective social setting. However, this of itself is not enough. The social setting must be receptive either by prior knowledge of the domain in which the art object functions or be informed of the aims or function of the art object so that the viewers can be guided in their response by a set of rules of reaction.

The skill of the artist is to enable this nexus of meaning and function. The artist can employ many strategies and tactics to do so, but for the work to elicit the living presence response, he or she much be aware of the context and receptivity of its audience. 

NB: the terms I have used so far could be replaced with Gell’s. This would make the writing and reading of the text much simpler as in my previous post, namely: artist, index, prototype, recipient, agency.

I have not mentioned examples as this sort of post is more of a place holder for a fuller text. 

 

Constructing Irretrievable Narratives to Living Presence Response

 

Trying to Grasp the Irretrievable

To connect with the past through an atavist organic self, is to reconstruct not only events but the notion of sentience in another time. How can this be possible if the past is out of reach? Humans have grappled with this problem of creating an uninterrupted narrative in one way or another since people have wondered what it is to be. Ultimately, is it not about trying to explain the world as it is and how we got here, and perhaps by discovering some best explanation, for that is all it can be, have a glimpse of purpose, or if indeed there is one? Abductive reasoning is at the core of this, there is no certain conclusion, only evolving ideas that change as evidence accrues or new paradigms are installed as others are packed away.

Describing such a narrative is about filling the spaces between what we know to create mass. An uncertain substance yes, but it is something to hold on to, to shape our view of the world. Mass is a speculative place holder for something we can probably never come to know, experience for certain, only through projections and models that we build of the world, again as best fit explanations for their time. Knowledge is at best, one long sequential series of inferences that bring the world to life, a vision limited to our lives and senses in this four dimensional existence.

Personal memory, collective memory are acts of reconstruction, constantly discarding and reforming narratives in a dough constantly kneaded into shape. We sail in a ship of Theseus of the self, shedding and accreting thoughts that keep our sense of momentary self in some sort of integrity. 

A medium is a metaphor, an analogue even of part of such mass, malleable, reformable. Clay is such a medium, however, the conversion of clay into ceramic stone, the alchemical process of firing, is the consolidation of an idea into what could be seen as a dogmatic shape, no longer responding of itself but only capable of being responded to. It is at this point that making ceases.

The process that gives rise to a work of art becomes translated into another behaviour. The work of art becomes more than the frozen embodiment of the intentions of its maker. It becomes an agent, a social agent not just of those aims and desires but a vessel accruing the actions and feelings of those that experience it. The work of art is kept alive in this sense, by the communion of the recipient. In that way the work leaves the hermit shell of the artist and grows into something else. Something undetermined but possibly significant. It is fed by the context it inhabits; living, dying, resurrecting as circumstances may change, paradigms shift, society attempt to reconstruct a narrative, a new narrative, so long as it survives the vicissitudes of history and nature. 

I have given a preliminary look at Alfred Gell’s seminal work on art anthropology, Art and Agency. It is a continuation of Dewey’s idea of art as experience. Gell applies this to situations in which artefacts become objects of ritual, veneration and even fetishism. It is a fascinating area for me because it forms a way in which I can articulate some of what I am doing. This in turn has its origins in Sanders Peirce’s work on semiotics. It is a way of explaining the relationship between artwork and viewer when the viewer treats the object as a living entity. Caroline van Eck explains this dynamic in clear terms in her paper, Living Statues: Alfred Gell’s Art and Agency, Living Presence Response and the Sublime. It contextualises my practice in that domain, where the object is treated as living without the need to talk of it as a biological metabolic organism. This ties in with my paper on Evolutionary Space: Looking at Artistic Practice in a Disparate Art Ecology. It is about the transfer of information. And this transfer of information is not necessarily one in which free will or even action is required on behalf of the art object. The art object  is the carrier of information in much the same way as a printed book or screen does. The container of information is a vehicle and its intrinsic value as art is perceived, just as a sacred rock is seen as such even though it is physically no different to any other rock. Both Gell and Eck extend the argument to looking at why an inanimate object should illicit a response of the kind that art objects and artefacts do, a living presence response. These texts are of course mainly written in the context of ritual anthropology and pre-contemporary art history. However, they can be useful in considering the function and affect of a contemporary artwork and how this might influence art practice. It certainly is not applicable to all forms of art but the future destiny of an artwork is often if not always beyond the grasp of the artist or their contemporaries. 

I may write more about this as it enters into domains directly pertinent to my own interest but I need to study the texts further before doing so. these texts deal with salient aspects of my very first project proposal draft, A contract with the Ineffable, and may be useful in my explication of what I am currently doing. Eck concludes her paper pretty well where I began with my first draft project proposal, ‘[the] living presence response considered as an experience of the representation of the unrepresentable’.

A Place for Tags and Categories

It has taken me all this time to work out a useful function (for me) for these two classification criteria. This has been an important result of the blog curation process. Simply put, categories are very wide groupings similar to chapters in a book. They tell something of the area of interest but not its content. Tags can be likened to the contents section of a book. It is there where one searches for a particular term used, name, place, process, etc. Tags like content will list all the relevant words that I might find useful in the future if I wish to search for something. For example, if I want to look up a particular artist I have written about and cannot remember where to find it, I type the name and all the posts that contain that name will appear. There is an even more powerful function, and that is, if I want to refine the search because too many posts appear in the search, I can type two or more keywords, or tags. This will narrow the search results to only those posts that contain all those words. 

So far I have 1092 tags. This may seem a large number and no doubt will continue to increase. However, the number is of no consequence. It is only important if one wants the tag cloud plugin to say something useful. But the cloud plugins only deal with a small and limited number of tags. For this reason I have decided to remove the tag cloud widget from the side bar. As for categories, I have been able to cull them to be less confusing.

Skype Chat 4.4: On Focus and Attention Span

This Skype chat had a very practical aim, probably aimed at those of us easily distracted by social media and the demands the internet and web make on our attention. Attention, concentration and focus are key when making art works. 

Jonathan presented recent evidence that suggests our way of thinking, our brain architecture, so to speak, is being altered by the way we interact with computers and the internet; how the ever increasing processing speed with the commensurate increase in our responses. He also presented a quote regarding how this effect can hide in plain site:

People will come to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
Neil Postman Amusing Ourselves to Death 1985

This was said early on in the context of the world wide web. The difference between this and other technological innovations in the past is the speed at which it has developed and proliferated. 

A recent paper “the ‘online brain'” comes to three conclusions:

Internet is becoming highly proficient at capturing our attention, while producing a global shift in how people gather information, and connect with one another.
…found emerging support for several hypotheses…
…Internet is influencing our brains and cognitive processes…
3 specific areas…

1. …multi-faceted stream of incoming information…

[Attention switching and ‘multi-tasking, rather than sustained focus]

2. …ubiquitous and rapid access to online factual information…

[outcompeting previous transactive systems potentially even internal memory processes]

3. …online social world paralleling ‘real world’ cognitive processes…

[possibility for the special properties of social media to impact on ‘real life’ in unforeseen ways]

Firth, J., Et Al. (2019). The “Online Brain”: How The Internet May Be Changing Our Cognition. World Psychiatry, 18: 119-129

This speeding up of things occludes the spaces where subliminal, independent thought can take place. I feel that it could be seen as a form of indoctrination which uses the malleability of brain architecture. 

Jonathan then went through the conclusions to unpack what all this might mean.

conclusion 1 – important to note that most experts agree there is no such thing as ‘multi-tasking’ – it is only possible when one this is ‘automatic’ like walking and talking at the same time – the walking element is automatic…
therefore we are creatures of very fast attention switching.

…they found emerging evidence that the online brain is bombarded with so mush stuff that fast switching means it is increasingly hard to sustain focus.

… that is the sort of evidence that is emerging – but they are not saying it is positive or negative – just that there is evidence for this — we have to decide what to do about this ourselves.

…the challenge is – does the very medium of the web demand this reduced focus – or has it just been hijacked by commerical forces!

I feel that this may be so, but the highjacking may not always be commercial, there are also attention seeking forces as well as lobby groups. I guess the major influences, however, can be traced back to some commercial motivation. 

there is clear evidence that when we switch attention quickly – it means nothing is deep and concentrated – we have to decide if that is doing us harm or not (more likely there are times when fast switching is incredibly useful and times we need sustained attention but we may need to work harder to develop the sustained focus skills?)

There is competition for attention and space for information of whatever sort. 

The point made here is that making is a great training for sustained focus skills. Particularly hand-eye making with material, not computer based making. We are physical beings and so need physical, and not just mental,  interaction with the world. This means that focus needs time and computers, ‘steal’ time from us. 

2. …ubiquitous and rapid access to online factual information… outcompeting previous transactive systems
potentially even internal memory processes
this point it more subtle but equally important to the first point
transactive knowledge – idea developed by Daniel Wegner 1985 – groups collectively encode, store, and retrieve knowledge

I feel that this point is about our being rewarded by fact acquisition, ‘fact gluttony’. This satiates our curiosity but leaves us with a diminished sense of wonder… and wondering again is about have the time to engage in it. We are exchanging information for our time. This makes me think that we need to be more discerning about the information we seek. 

This idea regarding factual information posited by Jonathan is very much about collective memory…

on transactive memory – Wegner suggested – transactive memory system can provide the group members with more and better knowledge than any individual could access on their own

This collective memory is vulnerable to political and commercial forces which can influence it. This is particularly the case with social media. However, social media can also be used by counter movements. It could be argued that propaganda in the past was more effective because it was the main source of information for the population at large. Today, there are many sources of information… it is a constant struggle between competing positions. 

so their conclusion is that the online brain having so much access to instant ‘factual’ information means there is evidence now of it changing the way our brains function  and maybe even our internal memory systems —
whatever we think of this we need to be aware of this emerging evidence

What might we lose with we engage less in transactive memory – the building of memory by exchanging memories and ideas between individuals? Intelligence but above all wisdom. And the challenge in today’s society is that transactive memory is difficult to sustain when people leave disparate, asynchronous lives. 

Finally we came to how all this might affect our work as artists

as artist does our work suffer with the instant access to the ubiquitous and rapid online factual information?
or are we enabled like never before because we have access to the ubiquitous and rapid online factual information?

I feel that too much information can lead to a form of artistic paralysis. The availability of so many paths and directions can be confusing and preclude one from entering into work with depth. In addition, some skills require many years to acquire. However, Aristotle did mention an interesting idea: T-shaped skills arrangement where a main skill is formed in depth over time adding other minor ones on top of it.

There is one physical problem I see with the growth of computers as sources of information in the future. Computers are highly sophisticated and cannot be easily made with simple tools and technologies as books and printing presses can. Also, computers are needing an increasingly large amount of electric energy. What will happen when everything runs on electricity as is being proposed? These two points make us very vulnerable to technological catastrophes.  

3. …online social world paralleling ‘real world’ cognitive processes…
possibility for the special properties of social media to impact on ‘real life’ in unforeseen ways

3rd conclusion is less certain and is more speculative – they are aware of the growing impact but importantly there are many unforeseen ways that might impact on us

“The problem with the internet,” Firth explained, “is that our brains seem to quickly figure out it’s there – and outsource.” This would be fine if we could rely on the internet for information the same way we rely on, say, the British Library. But what happens when we subconsciously outsource a complex cognitive function to an unreliable online world manipulated by capitalist interests and agents of distortion? “What happens to children born in a world where transactive memory is no longer as widely exercised as a cognitive function?” he asked.   

the Guardian newspaper, article

The outcome to this conversation was an awareness of the need to develop response strategies as artists to the emerging evidence that the online brain is changing us

This conversation was useful in terms of raising my awareness of the influence of the computers and the web on my workflow and ways of thinking and how I need to be vigilant.

The following are some of the strategies I have adopted:

Use the computer as a tool to making, documenting and communicating during interludes in making. This interlude creates a space from the physical, material activity which changes the mental space and refreshes the mind. I find myself stepping from making to writing and post-producing photographs in a constant cycle of production with my brain engaging in two forms of function linked by the same activity. This physical workflow is a conversation between the outer and inner-world interacting physically. I feel it is dangerous to ignore the fact that we are physical beings, symbolic life is not actual life. 

Jonathan introduced Doug Belshaw’s response:

Doug Belshaw who writes a lot about ‘digital literacies’ has 3 initial thoughts on how to respond:
1. seek other networks
2. look for voices you want to give attention to
3. avoid constipation!
1. deliberately look for networks to engage with – eg this course right now, or more decentralised online networks – where money making is not the main issue
2. look for interesting people – not just on social media – look for newsletters, zines, blogs, podcasts – slower forms of online engagement?
3. horrible metaphor!! but — massive info consumption – gets stuck – need better throughput! — careful reflective writing can really help – extract the nutrients from what reading listening to etc.

Jonathan ended the chat with the same statement he started with:

our attention is sovereign
1. we decide where we put our attention
2. in acknowledging this – we take responsibility
— where we put our attention
— past and future

Maquette for Suspended Sculpture

Yesterday I worked on the idea of creating a porcelain sculpture that lets light pass through. On a small scale the above form worked well and looks elegant, but on a large scale I felt that it may present as impressive but boring. I would be reproducing, more or less, the form on a larger scale which would be more of an engineering problem than artistic one. It is the sort of thing one would pass on to technicians. 

The conversation I have been having with Taiyo comes to mind, in which I made a distinction between interest, meaning and significance. On a large scale I feel the skeletal form, shown beneath, may be more interesting. By this I mean that it may engender a greater curiosity, catalyse more questions. This would be more in keeping with the idea of layered interpretations I have talked about in the project proposal: to open out rather than enclose the narrative. 

Both approaches are valid. This is yet another example of my dialectic between the rational and the emotional. If I were to go with the more recent idea, it would present different technical problems and perhaps lead to new discoveries. I have never worked like this. In the end, on a large scale, the degree of detail possible offers a perhaps more interesting making experience. One in which I learn new things. After all, I could also show the sleek model as an idealisation in contrast to the reality; much in the way that religions work and can give rise to ambitious and magnificent sacred art. Distant from every day life. 

I also feel that the ‘skeletal’ piece, apart from being potentially lighter and easier to display, is more visceral, closer to the ethnographic artefacts that so engage me. Made using simple technology that challenges the skill base of the maker to bring together the spiritual and the everyday, the imagination and the earthy, the touchable essence of material. 

I could argue that the earlier approach transcends the everyday into a different plane of existence, belief and imagination, but is the narrative I am building not based on the immediacy of a world that is beyond my grasp and yet I feel is ever present? Should this immediacy not be reflected in the process; a directness of making that the earlier approach would occlude by virtue of its aesthetic form and finish? However, if I am to keep the sense of preciousness of a sacred object, making the piece in porcelain would be enough to transcend the conceptual content. I am stepping into both domains, is that not how belief works, constantly moving between reality and the ideal? What is the relationship between reality and the ideal, are they entangled or separate, joined only in our minds? 

The entanglement of sound and material I propose is better served by the skeletal form in relation to low frequencies: more permeable, affected, conjoined. 

If I am to go with my current inclination, does the final form need to be what it is now? Does this form of making not invite an exploration of new dispositions of parts and indeed change the whole character of the work. This brings me in conflict with time. I have only so many months to draw the form, make, fire, finish and mount. Do I have the time to do this with everything else I need to do?

Over the next few days I shall experiment with some ideas and see where that takes me. What I want to avoid is indecision during making, that would slow the whole process. In the meantime I can continue with other works and keep an open mind. I hope to have something more definitive before December which would give me realistically, six months in which to complete the work.

 

Finding a Title

 

Two small models to accompany the recumbent copy of the larger conversant piece. I feel I can now continue with making the larger work. These models will help me in deciding its size in relation to the already finished work which as it dries will shrink. This is why I made the measurements yesterday.

It differs in many aspects but the two emerge from the same formal stable of ideas but with different psychological aspects. The idea of spes contra spem, a phrase with many interpretations I have been fascinated with for years, seems to fit the works. I think I have found the title for these works which brings together belief and science, myth and theory. With this I can now move forward with sounds and words… It reminds me of what Picasso said, ‘I do not seek, I find’. Although this can be understood in many ways, Picasso was a great appropriator, I prefer to think that ideas often emerge after a time of subliminal thought when the conditions are right. As much was variously described by Henri Poincaré.

Research Statement

 

Evolutionary Space: Looking at Artistic Practice in a Disparate Art Ecology

 

The full research statement can be viewed here.

 

Abstract

The disparate but interconnected nature of contemporary artistic practice is examined in the cases of cell automation, computer-generated life, and ceramic sculpture. It is argued that creative systems involve the encoding and implementation of pure information into perceptible modes, manifested, propagated, and proliferated in a process involving the flow of information. This is arrived at, in the context of Dennett’s concept of algorithm, Olson’s ideas on computer-generated life, and biological and cultural systems. A distinction is made between phenotype and hardware, and symbolic or virtual life and organic life subject to physical laws. The possibility of physical life as opposed to symbolic life being generated by computers of the future is speculatively touched on. This in turn leads to the suggestion that there is a symbolic correspondence between art practices and life processes. An artwork in design space within a given ecosystem is seen as a step in the development of a practice arising from what is called here evolutionary space. Evolutionary space is presented as a way of looking at art practices in terms of how they develop, adapt, and operate, in a dynamic relationship with an ever-changing environment. It extends Esslin’s artist-centric approach to evaluating artistic practice consistent with Anderson’s anthropological, and Bayles and Orlando’s sociological notions of art. Evolutionary space may be a way of mitigating some of the complications that subjective criteria might cause when discussing differing practices. In conclusion, evolutionary space offers a flexible and adaptable means of considering art practices, their taxonomies, processes, and outcomes, forming a starting point for further discussion and research into the nature of artistic practice and the role of artists.    

Key words: evolutionary space, ecosystem, artistic practice, information, aesthetics.  

Experiment 3 for Conversant Pieces

Third porcelain conversant piece.

This piece sets the tone for subsequent works. The large suspended piece will follow that felt sense that this has. I have resolved many aspects of making so when I return to the studio I will be able to immerse myself in the making rather than problem solving. 

I was originally thinking of having a large number of pieces on a raised surface near the ground. I have changed my mind. This is going to be one of two pieces, placed on surfaces so that they can be looked at and listened to closely:  waist height most probably. I had thought of plinths but I think that two flat surfaces, interlocking, held up with very thin metal legs might work better. I don’t want the sense of space to be blocked by solid plinths but rather have the porcelain pieces almost hovering off the ground. One recumbent like this one and the other vertical, more active. The horizontal extension of this one against the verticality of the other will form an L shape seen from above and the side. But this depends on the exhibition space.

Experiment 2 for conversant pieces

Porcelain components for second conversant piece.

This piece, the second in the series, was a departure from the vertical vessel. I count this as the second failure of the series. It moves on from the former work but I am still not happy with how I relate the form. I am not feeling it enough; working too much from the head; the work is too rigid. Perhaps this is because I am contemporaneously resolving some practical problems such as how to embed the sound and making the pieces so they fit the large kiln. I am pleased, though, with the material quality, its surface but not its formal quality. It does not convey the organic sense I am looking for. It has, however, crossed some boundaries and as a stand alone piece it could well work – just not as part of the installation as I envisage it at the moment, but that could change and it may still appear in the final show depending on its context and how it is displayed.

I am looking to make something that is like a body, but not a recognisable one. To have human elements without any human iconography. To engender an empathy in an alien form; to convey the animal in the human, with the human trapped in the body, latent, nascent, trembling with what it might become. 

Experiment 1 for conversant pieces

Making a porcelain stand for first conversant piece.

This piece was the first of three I made during the Summer before going away in September. I was highly disappointed with the outcome but it indicated the way for the next piece. I learnt a great deal along the way. How to break away from preconceptions. I played with the surface but found that all the details added simply made the work neither one thing nor the other. 

It was a good way of finding out how to embed the sound apparatus and making procedure but not the artistic content. I consider this a failure well worth making as it has led to more interesting ideas. 

 

An idea I worked with was the imprisoning of sound, not allowing it to escape but making it audibly entrapped in the ceramic body. The protuberances making the whole fragile, the brittle pieces creating a further barrier to the sounds from inside. 

I have moved on from this idea. I feel that at times, ideas that appear to work when described in words do not necessarily come together as a work in another medium. The Project Proposal now reflects this as I pare it down.

Treasure

 

Collected these treasures on a beach in the South of France the day before yesterday. Janet picked up the biofacts and mineral objects. I was drawn to the glass worn by the incessant wave action. What would our distant, and perhaps not so distant ancestors have given for these coloured jewels? They would have certainly used them to adorn themselves and decorate their most precious possessions; traded them inland and held them as symbols of status, wealth and beauty. The irony is that these are today’s waste cast into the sea, transformed and neglected in the sands of a affluent watering hole. 

What will our descendants think of the pebbles and algae washed up on shore? The pebbles will always be there, or somewhere else. The algae, who knows. All too often, the natural environment is entangled with plastic and other detritus from our ‘evolved’ world. How will clean, natural things be seen in the future?

Janet and I collected different things, One the natural historian, the other the archaeologist. The two go hand in hand, and we did not ‘fight’ over any particular object. The truth is, that we helped each other to find the objects we sought. A meaningful juxtaposition arising out of a collaborative exploration on a modest scale.

Skype Chat 4.1: Unit 1 Assessment and Process & Ars Electronica

We talked about the Unit 1 Assessment process and criteria. 

Jonathan also showed us some works being shown at the Linz  Ars Electronica 2019. 

 

 

I found it interesting the correspondence Wu Juehui’s installation,  Bit Tower,  has with installations I made in 2010, 2013 and 2014 using sacred spaces and low frequency sounds. 

In 2010, I experimented with sculpture and sound during a residency at Nottingham Trent University. The result was Contingent Ceremony, an installation in a small redundant church looking at worship and the sacred in the light of mystery and magic.

I also showed a version of this at the Crypt Gallery St Pancras in the same year. Incidentally, the same show as Genetic Moo, graduates from this very same course long before I ever knew about it.

 

 

2013, the next installation was more ambitious in scale, in the large Chad Varah Chapel. Here I used a variety of sound sources enveloping the space and emanating from a central sculpture. I remember the highlight for me was when one of the festival organisers was brought to tears by the associations she made with the work. It is humbling when such things happen and also bring to mind the responsibility one has to others when doing something affecting. 

 

 

The next installation was in 2014 as part of the touring show Chaos Contained. The installation was in the Bell Tower of St John’s Church in Scunthorpe. This time I used the sounds of the tower clock together with low frequencies. 

For the project proposal I am thinking of using low frequencies but this time with a digital control mechanism which interacts with the audience. I worked with the Arduino earlier this Summer, learning how to use it and code. I shall continue this as soon as I get back to the studio. This period away has been useful for writing the Research Statement, thinking about the Project Proposal and curating the blog. 

Adrien M and Claire B from Lyon are artists I was already familiar with through social media. Their work is interesting in the simplicity of use of technology. However, I do think that it is more style than content. The work at Ars Electronica I particularly liked. It is lovely to see when seen from the right place. But the fact that it is limited in its angle of view is a shame and seeing it is made with an ipad reflecting from glass at 45 degrees does give me the sense of a simple magic trick demystified and laid bare to disappointment. Nevertheless, I think that the simplicity itself is the trick and not what it shows. This sort of augmented reality is beguiling for a moment until I become habituated, then I want to seek something deeper. Despite my misgivings about the nature of this kind of work, it is entertaining and creates associations and gives me ideas. That certainly cannot be a bad thing. 

Akinori Goto’s work is a holographic zoetrope reminding me of Matt Collishaw’s Massacre of the Innocents. It is more ethereal and less theatre but I much prefer Collishaws’s subject matter. Goto’s dancing figure seems more of a demonstration of a technique and again lacks subject matter. At least, Adrien and Claire’s particulate bombardment of a block of crystal is cosmological, a dancing figure is too much like a computer generated film effect of a fairy dancing on a table. 

Despite all the things I say, hats off to these artists for their ingenuity and technical savvy, although in some cases I am sure there are some backroom boys, or girls, involved, who knows, they are hardly ever named, at least in the headline credits.

Memo Akten and his crew do some very impressive work in Istanbul. It is a little disturbing, especially with how beguiling it is. The work again seems a demonstration of technology. It makes me think that the artistic content of the work lies in one’s inference of its nature. The technology is the content itself rather than a means to express something else. That is how it seems to me very often. It is left for later generations to pick things up and take them further. 

And as for Luca Zanotto’s Eyes – emoticons on steroids.

Wolfgang Gil: Maleable Sound as Sculpture

 

Resonant Body I - Wolfgang Gil

 

Gareth Jones, in his essay, describes the historical changes in the relationship between sculpture and sound. This dichotomous tension is straddled by Gil’s work in Sonic Plasticity proposes the use of sound as a malleable material – one that can be stretched in all dimensions, encompassing height, width, and depth, with curves, edges, and changing geometries. His Aural Fields and Resonant Bodies combine physical structures set to vibrate, creating geometric fields of sound perceivable in space with edges and form.

This is an interesting field I am currently investigating with respect to the final proposal with respect to sculptures. I am not proposing to do the same sort of thing but Gil’s work does have correspondence with how I see sound as creating a physical entity in itself.

My idea is to counterpoise the readability and sensuality of the solid pieces with the pure perception and sensuality in another modality of sound. I am concerned about the cancelling out of one another: should solid sculpture reside in silence, should sound be disembodied? These are questions I intend to explore and aim to resolve in some way. The use of digital interactive devices is something I have been working with enabling an element of audience interaction. But then again, the work in silence also speaks of itself. This is an interesting area of empirical research which needs a trial and error, or heuristic, approach.

Amputation

 

 

An amputation is not something one would want. Sculptures have suffered amputations throughout the ages, some repaired, others restored and yet others left as they were found, This Herakles, Venus de Milo, the Belvedere Torso and so on. Limbs at times distract from the sense of form, many artists have known this, others have incorporated the limbs so that it merges into the body. 

I have had a problem in that I want to make large ceramic works but the kiln is only so large. I have a top loader 59 cm diameter and 69 cm high which needs to be wired in. This is not small but neither is it large enough. What to do? 

I had thought of jointing the pieces much as I did with the works in Chaos Contained. But this is not in keeping with the informal, organic sense of the works I am currently engaged with. Chaos contained was about symmetrical growth from within, an outward radiation. Now the works are internally generated, handled in a completely different way. 

 

 

So I looked at how I could make the pieces in parts to be put together later after firing. I came across the work of Giovanni Vetere who works with glazed ceramics. The pieces are much larger than would fit in a regular kiln. In addition they would be unstable and too fragile for firing in one piece. On closer inspection of his work I noticed that they are made in pieces using the glaze patterns to camouflage the joints.

 

 

I could try to hide the joints when installing but would there be a better way? To show the cut, a severance, a clean cut that must signify something. And it opens the way for future large works where the cut plays a part. It may even lead to being able to show a work in its pieces arranged meaningfully or at least aesthetically. 

 

 

What this does for my ongoing work is to provide a formal solution to having a kiln smaller than the fluid forms I want to make: the parts can be fitted together after firing. It also solves the problem of how to insert and remove sound equipment.  Conceptually, this technique offers the opportunity for representing vulnerability, fragility and reformation; perhaps also creating compositions, of parts that relate to one another and reconstituting them in different configurations.  

 

Evolutionary Space

 

Images above: works by William Latham, John Horton Conway and Andrew Lord

Evolutionary Space: A way of looking at art practice as continual process in a disparate ecology.

Art practices have become widely divergent and disparate in recent years, particularly since the arrival of  digital means which have opened out previously unimagined possibilities. Different taxonomies representing a great variety of paradigms, methodologies, thematics, mediums and contexts have given rise to a heterogeneity of approaches when considering practices and the role of artists which can render problematic a holistic consideration of different ways of generating art. Using Conway’s “Life, Latham’s “Mutator”, and the work of ceramic sculptor Andrew Lord as subjects, this paper introduces an approach to discussing art practices, fostering a unified view in the midst of diversity, evolutionary space. Borrowing from the idea of fitness landscape in evolutionary theory, applying it to Olson’s analysis of computer generated life regarding the relationship between pure information and its physical interpretation, in the context of Whitehead’s process philosophy of becoming, and Dennett’s idea of algorithms, a picture is built of how different art practices can be viewed as dynamic information streams coded and implemented in material terms. 

The research paper has changed radically and become frighteningly simply because I have a tendency to complicate things. The above may seem complicated but it is in fact a straightforward synthesis of ideas from various fields to construct a different way of talking about art practices which goes some way to avoid value judgements and the need to describe things subjectively. Writing the paper is making me focus on an increasingly narrow narrative as an explication for a broad idea. It is frustrating at times because I want to explore a multiplicity of ideas but by considering a wide field and having to progressively select out is also liberating. It shows me that things can be simple without loosing depth. Implied ideas can be just as powerful in leaving the reader the possibility to uncover them or find new things and feel the sense of discovery rather than having them pointed out. The methodology I am constructing is also feeding into the project proposal: I no longer feel compelled to spell out every idea. 

A Correspondence: Marguerite Humeau

Betty brought Marguerite Humeau to my attention during her feedback to my Mid Point Review. The artist works with similar ideas I work with, organic life, sound, the past and myths. It is interesting but I do find her installations somewhat too clinical and the sculptures lacking in depth. What I mean by this is that they do not have scales of vision: they are large and smooth and had all their interest sanded off them. The slickness lacks humanity and looks rather plastic and artificial which does not seem quite in keeping with her ideas. They look like reproductions of Blender renders in fibreglass or some similar material. In any case, I like that she works with mediums and ideas that I can identify with and is one of very few artists that is in my direct sphere of interest.

 

Art Now: Marguerite Humeau, Echoes, Tate Britain, November 2017

Research Statement: Taking Another Direction

My Research Statement started clearly but tailed off towards an uncertain ending. I had the thread, subject knowledge and so on but crucially what I was thinking was only of slight relevance to contemporary art. I had been dealing with histories of knowledge and putting together a viewpoint that although very interesting to my mind, it was not pertinent to contemporary art and did not contribute to my practice, neither methodologically nor theoretically: I just found it interesting. 

I had written around two-and-a-half thousand words when the recurring feeling of dread that asks, where is all this going, became too strong to ignore. I had barely started to look at contemporary artist that might be relevant to the paper. I looked at some suggestion Gareth had given me. Most were examples that were nothing close to what I was talking about, but you only need one, and one did stand out ticking all the boxes. I found that William Latham has been working in a similar way to me for years. He has developed an evolutionary art with computers, I have done it with sculpture. I looked up some references I was familiar with to do with cell automation, a bit about AI and found these things fitted into the contexts I had thought of previously: the Cambrian explosion and the Early Bronze Age. 

I am excited in that the hypothesis I am now proposing brings together art, biology, anthropology/archaeology, the digital environment, virtual worlds, philosophy and the future. The idea is not fully fleshed out yet but it is on its way and would not have been possible had I not started the way I did. The idea came a few days ago as a need to find a way of talking about very different artistic processes in the same terms. I have found that despite all the talk of breaking down barriers, merging and blurring the boundaries, art has become too disparate and dispersed. A fog of taxonomies, political stances, power plays creates in me an inability to talk about things cohesively and clearly without having to ignore the unique characteristics of each practice or making crass generalisations. This is not an attempt to judge or weigh one art form against another. On the contrary, it is a way of critically looking at each practice and identifying what makes it unique without recourse to subjectivity. I know that this is a bold claim and it may unravel as I write the paper but it is an interesting exercise. It is probably just another supporting piece of thinking. Many attempts have been made to do this since structuralist, post-structuralist and subsequent theories. I think Wittgenstein wrote something along these lines but it was based on a philosophical logic form that is not easy to understand.

And finally, it is directly relevant to me by helping to re-contextualise my practice in the contemporary environment. I think it could be one way of universally thinking or rethinking about process, categories, art, anything that involves change, which is virtually everything. 


Note to self: writing this down is a way of telling myself to continue writing, researching and composing ideas.

Low Residency 2019 Day 3: Morehshin Allahyaai

 

Warning: this post contains very subjective material.

After over six months I still remember one visit and one work in particular. At the Annka Kultys Gallery in the London City Island an exhibition of digital works was showing entitled Re-Figure-Ground.  Two things I remember, the video-game-like virtual reality goggle-based immersive 3D videos complete with kinetic controls with which to travel within the virtual world, and a simple 3D animation that did not do much with a spoken audio.

The VR works were interesting enough from the point of view of technology but quite honestly they left me underwhelmed on account of their lack of conveying any point to them other than showcasing the technical work. And to add, the resolution was so poor that it left me wondering whether I needed new glasses. This inconsistency between the vision and the actual vision left me somewhat frustrated. Claudia Hart’s augmented reality was like walking through a myopic fruit machine of social media icons along pointless corridors. The fact that she is examining the body, perception and nature ‘adapt[ing] the forms and software normally used to create 3D shooter games was no compensation for what was clearly meant to be a transformational experience. 

The Karst cave by Snow Yunxue Fu’s was, as she says, an attempt to embody the concept of Plato’s cave in a virtual realm. She then continues to say, ‘providing a contemplative environment for the visitor to wonder; walking and teleporting within the control of the wireframed virtual hands that are given to them’. Really, Plato’s cave? That is certainly not what Plato was on about when he described our secondhand manipulated perception of the world. Leave that bit of referencing and you are left with an enjoyable, if somewhat, again myopic trip fantastic.

 

 

The rest of the show I found cold but one work did stand out for me, and it was not the most accomplished technically. Morehshin Allahyari’s video installation She Who Sees the Unknown, Aisha Qandisha was a back projected video 1 of a 3D animated figure that did not do much other than turn around a bit and sit in some sort of digital sea. On its own it would have graced any number of album covers for some group or other singing about whatever. However, when combined with the narrative it became something else. It transported me to another world of magical realism in some ancient past which is very much present. 

The combination of powerful scripted content with a weird large image moving, now menacingly with the audio gave me the sense of a deity being displayed before its awestruck followers. This remains in my mind not only for the content but how something relatively simple in digital terms, can still have impact compared to more sophisticated presentations. 

Much of her earlier work does not do much for me. It is overtly political and lacks depth; mimicking the tired old tropes of various movements in previous years. Thankfully, she has developed a more personal voice that has moved her into a rich imaginative space. 

morehshin.com

  1. Onto a white acrylic sheet (transmits around the require 50% of light for a good back lighting as Jonathan explained to me) suspended from the ceiling and cleanly fitted onto the sheet by means probably of some sort of projection mapping[]

Finishing Porcelain

As I work, I think of how the final pieces will look. Porcelain is a strange material. Silky smooth when fired with a grainy feel if left unglazed. I want to give the surface a skin-like feel.

 

 

The Belvedere Torso in the Vatican collection was a seminal inspiration for Michelangelo. Signed “Apollonius son of Nestor, Athenian”. Marble acquires a softness that bellies its nature as stone. Sculpture in stone influences my choice of material. But I choose ceramic as a pliable stone which is transformed by the alchemy of heat. Porcelain is like the white marble of stones and glazing it seems to me betrays the traces of handling and so an essential characteristic of its making.

Why do I choose the Belvedere as an example of marble statuary? Because arms and legs are functional, locomotory and grasping. The body is the centre of physical being from which other things radiate. As it was with our primordial ancestors, so it is with the forms I am working on.

Glazing speaks to me of function, impermeability. The body is not impermeable but in continual transaction with the world. In early times the clay was burnished to render vessels less porous. Decoration has always been applied to ceramics, from the rhythmical marking of the beaker people, to the finest renderings. From symbolism to shear exuberance and delight, ceramics have diversified and many left function behind long ago evidenced in the heritage of form only.

I have experimented extensively with Parian clay which was developed to look and feel like marble, it is soft, vitreous and warm, but it is hellishly difficult to use and is subject to warping and cracking. It is better suited to casting large pieces. Casting at this stage is not for me, it is not sufficiently spontaneous and better left as a means of reproduction. However, I shall continue to work with it on smaller scales. 

I do not want to use glaze because it covers detail and the sculpture looses the surface nuances developed during its making. However, the raw biscuit low fired material is brilliant white and unsubtle. It is also prone to get dirty and due to its porosity very difficult to clean. When fired to a higher temperature, the surface vitrifies and becomes sealed to a large extent, less porous and prone to atmospheric damage and the dirty that comes with handling and storage. However, the crystalline surface is still very white and lacks the organic surface quality I am looking for. When the porcelain is unfired and still wet, it has a flesh like look, a warm grey that responds to handling developing a beautiful sheen where it is burnished. However, this disappears on firing. I have looked for a finish that can restore to some extent that sense of sensual softness and has the following characteristics:

  • does not yellow over time,
  • is colourless,
  • does not create a thick layer,
  • is not glossy
  • and is easily restored.

Having experimented with a number of possible candidates I have found that the humble paraffin wax candle is the ideal substance. The porcelain is heated with a hot air blower and the wax rubbed on building a very thin layer that penetrates the microscopic pores on the surface and creates a colourless, translucent finish. Finally it is burnished with a cloth or brush.  

 

On Methodology

Starting is always the hardest thing, unless one were to consider finishing. Both are difficult for different reasons. Finishing is the moment when you realise you have done what you can, it cannot be otherwise. It is the collapse of the potential that had been possessed before and during the making. Its gift is to whisper or shout according to its own inclination how the next work might proceed. And that brings me back to the beginning, starting a work.

I am starting a new piece in porcelain, white as the blank canvas of a painter, the beginning of a long journey. And as I set out without a set destination, only a sense of what I am looking for, that freedom is frightening. It reveals my shortcomings in the midst of a vision pulling me back to how I did things before. What is that the right course of action, how do I navigate this landscape of decision and indecision? 

To know what to do is not the point. It is the how and the why that will give me the framework to hold on to. Take that journey, on foot say, into a forest with neither the stars to guide me nor compass or map. I have no destination, only the ends of the Earth. If I try to walk in a straight line I will simply do so in circles and find myself back to where I started. I must decide on a course of action, a simple set of rules to break the bias of my own nature. Sometimes rules are changed a little but not so much as  for me to loose my way irrevocably.

Over years a method is perfected as is the reason for it. I work as a cartographer, marking each point as a star to guide me, a landmark to aim for. But this is art, not some field to be gridded out with a surveyor’s precision. To do so would yield little more than what is in the ground and the rule itself. To look beyond that field is where progress lies. Progress is born of change, imposed, contingent or better still by means of my own agency.  To do so is to turn the world on its side and refresh sight from another vantage point. But habits possess inertia, to turn them over I need help. Something I have learnt working with Janet is to do what I would not do normally. This is just one way of changing the course of things and refreshing what might otherwise become limp.

And so it is with the work I do now and the research statement. By this stage, I should not have to worry about where a work will end, it never ends as each finish is but the start of the next.

First Circuit

 

What struck me when I got the Arduino board was, how small it is, how small all of the things are. And that means, that they will be far less obtrusive than I had previously thought. And seeing how easy it is to work with I look forward to learning a great deal. 

The next step is to get to grips with the coding. Fortunately there is a lot of help on the web and even if some piece of code is not exactly what I need, I feel much more confident to be able to tailor it to my needs. 

How do I feel about using digital sound in conjunction with sculptures? I have always felt there is an equivocal relationship between sculpture, or statuary to be more precise, and sound. Is a statue not meant to be silent, to be contemplated without the distraction of noise?

But what if the sound comes from within, trapped, allowed a small breathing hole to reach one’s ears, fingertips, barely audible, sensed; a sound that is neither music nor the result of some kinetic accident? I see the sculpture as the receptacle of its own soul, the embodiment of what it is in its nature to be gently radiating outwards, translated into vibrations seeking connection. 

There is of course an element of humour in all this, for it to be otherwise would be melodramatic and to what end: humour can be poignant, questioning, engaging, cathartic. All I know is, I go with where the work takes me as it also follows me.  

Tutorial 4: 01 August 2019. Gareth Polmeer

 

Always you were drawn to the composite creatures, the broken and reassembled, for that is what you are.

Gregory Maguire                  

 

The first Research Paper tutorial was a sounding out of the initial outline. It was helpful in thinking about the way the narrative might go and how to apportion space to each component. My responses so far are:

There is a dialogue between the literal and metaphorical manifest as the biological and the cultural.

This leads me to think that I am dealing with three different ecosystems: biological, cultural and machine;

embedded in the Cambrian explosion, Early Bronze Age and the age of digital (for now) machines.

We are currently living in the cultural age which is on the threshold of the cultural-machine thinking period.

Useful worker to look at is William Latham.

Comparison between biological systems and machine systems – for now the human element is still the predominant one and machines are used as ‘intelligent’ tools.

The tutorial helped me in re-evaluating what I have done so far and how to place the historical knowledge element as a contextual framework for talking about the contemporary state of things. This will need a great deal of focussing but I think I can condense the historical elements into just a few hundred words.

The paper really touches on the philosophical ontology of current biology-computational art in relation to truly biological systems… in the context of culture.

Useful worker in the field of computer generated life: Eric T. Olson at Sheffield. He looks at the relationship between animals and humans at a philosophical level.

 

Andrew Lord: A Case of Phusis

 

 

I mentioned in a recent post that I am now ready to look into a contemporary context for my work. This is not altogether easy as what I do is not centred on one idea or medium alone. I know that many artists today are cross disciplinary and work in various mediums; this makes contextual correspondences all the harder to find. I have to be careful not to mention every one and sundry that I like or identify with in some way. This sort of openness would only confuse and lead to a lack of direction. What would making a long list do, help in the project development, show my wide taste in things?

No, what I am looking for is work that directly contextualises mine in terms of contemporary ideas and environments. Andrew Lord, ten years my senior is one such practitioner. Although he would not like to be called a potter, his body of work very much centres on the idea of vessels and clay, something I also work with.

Lord’s central notion is an interesting one. It is an idea that many working in clay have followed for some time, that of ‘rescuing’ pottery from still life painting. As Mark del Vecchio lucidly points out in his book, Postmodern Ceramics:

From Pablo Picasso to Giorgio Morandi, Vincent Van Gogh, and George Braque, pottery has tended to be the visual anchor of most still-life compositions. Contemporary ceramists have begun to reverse the compliment and draw inspiration from the paintings in which these pots appear, returning them to the three-dimensional realm, but retaining some painterly associations. 

Looking for what is common between two and three dimensions is a process which also requires an awareness of what is lost in translation. Only in this way can an essence of the object be made manifest. 

Andrew Lord displays his work in such a way as to allude to the still life genre by placing objects on tables and plinths, carefully arranged in terms of light, time of day, space and so on. The arrangements often remind me of Morandi’s still lifes, treated as emerging from the material becoming objects felt in the making. He leaves overt traces of how the object is formed often to the point of caricatured. 

This work is consonant with elements of some of my work, playful and ‘rough modelled’ caressed into being aimed at a sense of Platonic idealism imperfectly fashion in and on (E)arth. 

It also interest for me to note that in some cases, vases are displayed just off the floor in a similar way to how I plan to show  H’s Play Things in the final show… with one twist. 

 


 

Much of this approach is consonant with what Heidegger says in his essay, The Origin of the Work of Art:

  1. The material (clay) is central and clearly evident in the work. 
  2. The clay is subservient to what is being portrayed yet it ‘shines forth’ 1.
  3. There is a struggle between the nature of the material and what it tries to portray, what it is formed into or as Heidegger would say, between the Earth and the World.
  4. The vessels are not the product of craft yet he uses, techne or mode of knowing, to bring out hidden Aletheia, or being.
  5. The being of the thing is not just made, it is brought forth and made evident. It is generated from within through phusis as though through natural law.

But what is the role of craft in this act of phusis? Heidegger does become confusing, or more likely confused unable to articulate a distinction between craft and art: he descends into subjective ideas of the mystical and the sublime and sacred to support his thesis. Perhaps a simple, if still elusive reply is that the impetus for a work of art comes from within an internal process of natural growth, whereas craft’s impetus is external to its growth. It is clear to me that this categorisation is false in many cases and can only be considered from piece to piece and not generically.

Having said all this, Heidegger does provide a useful way of thinking about art as a spontaneous act of emergence in the making also raising interesting questions regarding the relationship between what is ‘being creative’ and artistic practice. 

  1. Heidegger[]

PD Pi Uno and Sharp

Naïve Schematic

The object of my research at this point in terms of electronics, coding etc, is to control the audio output of a sound file using Arduino and an active IR sensor and that this system should be fully automated and self starting using a Raspberry Pi coded (perhaps) with Pduino. 

I have looked at the possible components one by one and have arrived at the following which are open to change once I consult with Ed as to their suitability and viability.

This list may work as an indication of what I plan to use so as to gain, at least, a basic understanding of each component part. The coding is something else that I will have to be learnt over time once I procure the parts. 

Raspberry Pi 3: used to command the Arduino controller. The reason for this is to make the system automated only requiring to be switched on without the need of a laptop to initiate the programme.

 

Arduino Uno: having researched the myriad of Arduino models, this one comes up as the universal board that will do most things. I don’t need particular miniaturisation or a large number of I/O pins.

 

Active Infra Red Sensor: for a proximity sensor capable of analogue output and differentiating distance. It has to be active with a both a IR transmitter  and receiver. This sort is called an active (as opposed to passive) sensor. There are various models with different ranges. Other types of sensor include ultra sound sensors which are only suitable for detecting hard reflective surface. People do not make good reflectors as they absorb sound, particularly when clothed. On the other hand, people emit plenty of IR radiation. Sharp appear to offer the best range of sensors at a low price.

 

Digital potentiometer: to translate the distances picked up by the sensor and translating them into variable voltage that can be used to regulate output.

Media player: which stores and plays the sound files to be controlled. I do not yet know which type, whether incorporated in the Arduino, stand alone, usb stick or using the Pi as a media player. I suspect that using the Pi as a media player might complicate matters and a stand alone player might be simpler to incorporate in physical wiring. This I need to find out.

 

The speaker(s): I intend to use range from small to very large. The large one – 10 inch 4 Ω will need an amplifier that can deal with that low impedence. It will also have a particular case volume requirement, but that should not be a problem as the speakers positioning is not critical. 

 

Breadboard and connectors: There are many sizes and types of breadboard which facilitate wiring without the need to solder. With this I will need  jump lead connectors.

 

Resistors and capacitors: needed to regulate current in the circuit and perhaps a capacitor to help even out fluctuations in current. This may not be necessary when employing an amplifier. I shall find out in due time. 

LED: to test the circuit and proof of concept

 

 

Amplifier: is needed to amplify the sound signal and protect the Arduino circuit board from being ‘fried’ by the current drawn by the speaker(s). The amp takes the signal in the form of a small current and amplifies it sufficiently to ‘drive’ the speaker physically – which works by forcibly vibrating a drum-like membrane via voltage oscillations in a solenoid. I have a number of amplifiers from old HiFi systems. Alternatively I could get a smaller amp board; which one depends on the requirements of the speaker. A small amp size would be preferable for logistic and space reasons.

Multimeter: for measuring current, resistence, capacitance, voltage etc. Necessary to ascertain values and ensure connections are sound. I do not need an expensive model as it will not need much use, certainly not heavy duty and robustness is not an issue in the studio. 

Sound files: whether mp3 or wav may not be important since the sound I intend to use would not suffer from being in high fidelity. After all, most output nowadays is in mp3 and the relative loss of detail is hardly noticeable in normal circumstances.

 

On Materiality

 

My works are based on a strong sense of materiality as a means of grasping abstract ideas. To translate these from objects of the mind to ones that occupy three dimensional space is to rescue them from ephemerality. This in itself changes their nature as they arise in the making, capturing feeling in the material, moving away from the imagined to the physical. Concrete as they are, they probe into what is ephemeral and evanescent. Is it the phenomenon of being or the idea of being that is being represented here?

Clay is a material that can be shaped according to one’s own senses. Its inertness permits me to freeze moments of feeling and embed them in its corporeality. It is ideal for my approach, not to represent in some way thematic notions but to reify them. What emerges from these thoughts is that cycling and continuity are the abstract processes that underlie the thematics of time and life; and that in the work, space becomes actual material and that material defines the work, its thingliness, alongside its theoretical and contextual characteristics and qualities. 

Albeit I see the work as the thing itself, it is also a vessel holding allegorical content. It brings forth into reality the very notions that led to its making. However, in all probability these might well remain hidden if not layered with or disclosed by context. Context can wrap around the work in many ways, through text, juxta-positioning, placement, images, sound and so on. It is an area that I must work on diligently.. 

To make the object of the mind otherwise, digitally printed, commissioned or projected in another (more resistant) material, would not be the same. I need the direct contact between hand, eye, mind and material that makes it what it is and nothing else. The directness of touch as a principle conduit for embedding feeling in what otherwise might be materially impersonal. It is a synthesis of the untouchability of an idea and the inability to express that ideal form physically. It is as direct as stroking an animal or smelling a flower yet one can not be an animal or a flower. This creates a bridge between maker and receiver that subverts the continual increase in faux intimacy engendered by the current use of technology in today’s society, as in social media and infinite multiples of the same thing.

The human haptic mode encodes a complexity of information transmitted from in-the-making and passes on to experiencing. They come close to being one and the same thing. The object becomes more than something that can be seen and touched: it is a vehicle for subtle empathy. Not the sentimentality we attach to cherished, used objects of mass production. 

This subtle empathy which, placed in a human context, links me to the themes of the work relating to natural forces. I no longer am an observer but a participator in creating and remaking the world. The work is overtly human but also non-anthropic. It reminds me that we are part of nature but not necessarily central to it. We only make it so for existential reasons as do all other plants and animals. It is this survival, cycle, continuity that is again at the root of my ideas. But unlike an animal or a plant I can see beyond my immediate world, give form to other worlds and times. This gives me a special privilege and responsibility.

As to the basic form of the vessel that appears in much of my work? The vessel is a plane, folded on itself to become a container. We all were born as balls of cells that began their journey into the world as simple dimpled  spheres from which a vessel was formed. This form defines the boundary between the physical inner and outer environment. It defines the limit of our corporeal existence. We can only project out of it through our senses and the mind. However complex the vessel might become, its fundamental property of containment remains.

I see the vessel as inviting exploration of what is within and without and more importantly what it is that connects the two. My particular area of interest is not only located in the now but in the connections with the past and how this is part of what the future might become. The present is the vessel for all things yet it is elusive, an idea ever changing. It is an elusive membrane whose allusion becomes object in much of what I do. The membrane of the present, the inside and outside, the self and other.  

 

Constellations of the Small Make the Universe

Walking along the East England coast at Mablethorpe, against that watery panorama, the hidden drama of life below the waves was being cast onto the sand by the receding tide; empty detritus waiting for the wading birds, once star dust become flesh dismembered one by one of existence in an instant of countless moments. Was the crab or the jelly fish aware of its being as I of theirs and my own? Able to witness in the cloud of thoughts that is constantly shaped by constellations of cells inside my body I too will drift and bear their fate in a struggle, dispassionate and brutal that brings forth beauty and engenders awe.

A single starfish lies nearby, I toss it back, no thanks or waving arms, only my knowing, does that count in the grand scheme of things? I can not live its life but in that moment see myself thrown and saved in some fashion, it is the way of things. As we all were once inanimate, only I made in this present form am able to save my other self. 


How is this relevant to my project ? Mine is not an exercise in empathy, that cannot be for the subject is alien in form and substance. It is an expression of proximity to the other, I am made of the same paste, only arranged in a different ways, able to say this and pass it on. It is not entering some other life I seek but communion with that which is mute.

Third Phase of Unit One: Continued

I have returned to Forest Hill from the Camberwell College library with an armful of books and eyes set on the horizon. In the previous post I took a broad, summary view of what I have done so far. One major characteristic of my methodology to date has been my intention to limit new artistic influences. My reasons for this are twofold: it has been an opportunity to re-evaluate my practice and articulate its synthesis whilst keeping things open and in order to do so maintain a clear view of the context and content. 

The need to write the Research Paper now, is catalysing a process of finding new sources from within the contemporary artistic field which lie outside my own familiar domain (in all senses). I see this period as a time for drilling into the content of my work and looking at new artistic sources within and external to the paper. The time has come to take off one set of clothes and put on another.

I am not looking for direction, that I have in abundance, but rather for greater depth of means and idea. I have to be mindful not to overcomplicate things but this I can avoid by paring down to the essentials what I elaborate, again selecting, distilling, in this case correspondences with writers and other artists. The cuttings themselves will be useful for some other projects. The books I have taken out today and will borrow in the future I feel will help me in this regard: whether confirming, refuting or synthesising my ideas, any of these processes arising will prove valuable along the way to build on my understanding of things.

Put another way, so far during the first two phases I have been largely self-referential and self originating. I feel now in the position to absorb new influences into a robust framework that is stable enough not to be disrupted towards confusion and sufficiently flexible to adapt to new ideas and contexts.

 

 

 

Third Phase of Unit One

Janet’s final show is now over. The works de-installed and packed, I now sit in the library at Camberwell looking at books. So many interesting books; it is a good way to introduce the third phase of unite one. The First phase was one of doing and as I did so, of looking around within a familiar space. From this space I moved in and out forming ideas, refuting others, articulating, clarifying and creating generalities out of which specifics could be selected, filtered and distilled. 

The second phase has been one of articulating a thesis, closing some windows and passing through the one that is left to find myself in a vast landscape. It has been a time of deciding on a general direction and envisaging some sort of outcome partly manifest in the final show. I currently find myself in the narrow waist of an hourglass. Much time and many ideas have passed through and I now find myself on the threshold of what is to come. I have a clear idea of what that might be but I have yet to focus on particulars.

Being in Camberwell on and off for around three weeks has given me time away from the blog journal and making. I am forgetting and remembering, sloughing the superfluous which nevertheless has informed my journey. I now have a new perspective leading to a third phase.

The third phase is one where, although what I shall be concentrating on is more or less settled in form, the actual details of making, contextual framework, presentation, background are not yet clarified. This is a time where, having identified the domain in which I will be working, I can focus more deeply on every aspect of the work(s), layering deep sediments to form the body of this practice, making connections, meanings, engagements, and expressions, through techniques, symbols and tropes, modalities and affects.

It is a fascinating process because I now have to plan the works whilst keeping the process open. This I need to do because the making side of things can take a very long time. I also have to experiment new methods and techniques in order to incorporate the ideas I am working with. In addition, I have to contextualise those ideas and forms to position them meaningfully in the contemporary environment trying not to lose sight of where they have come from and the future.

What I have written here is a broad sense of what I am to do. What this is specifically, I shall write about later. For now I am still moving bodies in a mental space which are waiting to be reified and exposed. It is all so very open… 

Interim Show: On Titles

 

Even Before Birth is the Future Forgotten

Returning home from the Janet’s show installation I had to think about the interim show’s work title. I have never been keen on the process of naming a work despite knowing how important it is; I have seen it as an intrusion of words that closes down meaning. However, having thought at length about the 17th June tutorial with Jonathan I feel quite different about the matter. It is no longer an external slapping on of words but an added layer of meaning, an entry into the work without necessarily fencing its meaning, rather offering a thought that, if the words are chosen carefully, is both suggestive and open. What is more important is that it is the possibility to introduce a rational side to the work, by virtue of the inherent characteristics of words, that helps create a dynamic equilibrium between the rational and emotional. 

Here I reference the paradoxical time shifts that I deal with in my practice, being in the present whilst dealing with time frames interchangeably. I feel this title opens up a whole lot of ideas for me regarding the nature of time and life.

 

 

 

History and Shape-shifting Across Time: Rethinking a Tutorial

 

What is history? Nobody gave a deeper answer than Hegel – Terry Pinkard | Aeon Essays

History, or at least the study of it, is in bad shape these days. Almost everyone agrees that knowing history is important, but in the United States, except at the most elite schools, the study of history is in freefall.

 

A very interesting take on the human condition. It touches on some of the things I spoke about with Jonathan in our tutorial. 1

Pinkard opens with explaining how history is a process by which, ‘humanity experimentally seek[s] to understand itself in the myriad of ways in which it gives shape to itself in daily life, and also how historical change is intimately linked to changes in our basic self-understanding.’ As he puts it, shape-shifting ourselves across time. 

This is at the core of what I do across Big History. Seeing how we are indissolubly part of our origins and yet try to shake off the past, blindly, without realising that it (the past) clings onto us, embedded in our very flesh. 

In ‘What is the Difference’, the creatures shift shape as they rise the Babel-like tower, crude to refined, latent to defined, yet they bear a deep relationship woven into the fabric of life. 

Hegel’s first fundamental idea for his philosophical history, self-consciousness, corresponds to the microcosm of the act of reflection in action and the meditative holistic sense in making. His second idea corresponds with the notion of context and placement in a social space in which the first person viewpoint implies a dialectic. Further down the line, the I is separated from the individual ‘flesh-and-blood’ agent as it becomes the we in the accumulation of acts. This in itself reminds me of Buber’s philosophy of relations in ‘I and Thou’.

Hegel’s third idea refers to how circumstance largely dictates how things can go better or worse for an individual. We are all the offspring of history and constrained by the socio-familial-political and cultural environment. Although we are constrained by these factors, we also possess a greater or lesser amount of self determination, the ‘I’, that can set the way amongst the ‘we’.

All three ideas are contained within my work and the setting apart of directly human iconography is in some way the setting oneself apart from the ‘we’ whilst being in it. A toing-and-froing of the two forms which converge and diverge as do the Apollonian and Dionysian ways I spoke about in the tutorial. 

I constantly seek to reshape ideas as we do our lives, break with habits and reconcile others; shave off the animal in me whilst embracing it as my history and seeing how I cannot be without that part. 

The instability of things inherent in Hegel’s view of the world is reflected in the use of brittle, fragile material capable of resisting eons yet its form subject to catastrophic events. Porcelain is, as far as I am concerned, eternal, yet the form it is given is as fragile as the contingencies that surround it allow. 

Pinkard talks about new form of life emerging from the cultural rubble of an unbearable former one. So it is with the works I do, they look into a future as though they themselves are the past, with us absent from the scene yet we are here to witness it. This paradox, at the core of what I do, is the source of much of my difficulty in pinning down an essence. So I have reconciled with the evanescence of certainty, accepting the duality of things including my work.

Pinkard continues to talk about hierarchy and the Ancient Greek world’s moving beyond the freedom of a single person in society. This sense of democracy is implicit in what I am doing, all forms are equal and different without any containing an inherent authority over the others. They are all part of a great whole without which each would lose meaning with the loss of others.

This sense of freedom: does it pass onto me, and if I am free, am I independent? To proclaim oneself truly independent is to self-alienate, a social nothingness that negates an important function of the human self. Freedom does not lie in total independence but in the shape of agency that we assume in the context of one another and circumstance. A series of exchanges that at times result in a negative and at others a positive ‘balance sheet’. But in the end, it is the dialogue, the dialectic, that gives the ultimate fruit of synthesis and progression free from brut force, and art is only part of that but an essential component: in shaping tropes we shape ourselves; therein lies the power and danger of art.

  1. For the actual content see the conversation transcript.[]

Textual Layering to Work

Following my tutorial with Jonathan, seeing the use of QR codes by Ziyang and discussing accessing the video of Janet’s Mind Mirror at the selected show where monitors present a curatorial problem: adding text to the display of words not in physical format but online using QR code. This adds another layer to the work and not to close meaning down approaching it as, ‘this is my offering to you as to what I was thinking but actually there is a space for you’. For example prose poems or writings around related subjects. 

Another possibility is to create the graphic book with a series of stories or narratives that augment the ideas behind the work without explicitly stating this is what it is. Blurb magazine format is a good option as seen with Dwa’s book. Alternatively a small square book as in the case of Iris’ story. However this latter solution lends itself more to pictures and text. 

Tutorial 3: Jonathan Kearney – 17 June 2019

 

We spent most of the time talking around one recent post, Critique on Latest Study.

This summary is taken from our Conversation.

 

We discussed the ebb and flow between refined and crude thinking and handling during making and how a maquette is a condensation and clarification of this process before embarking on a large-scale project. How two approaches are kept in harmony: of keeping the dynamism of the sketch and the clarity of further finishing. That visibly incorporating both can give a sense of the kinetic essence of the process of making.

We also discussed the sense of something arising out of the material and the struggle involved. That this maelstrom of life, with crowded entities entering and exiting a surface is a metaphor of life and how this can also speak about aspects of humanity. How humans are part of and not separate from nature.

The forms represent individually more or less formal approaches and that this duality is emblematic of how I work, between the emotionally literal and the rational artificial, ritual and representational.

We discussed a variety of ideas for larger scale work: the evolutionary ideas and the mythology that arises from them leads to the whole created using modular units, interchangeable and capable of fitting together in various ways.

We discussed the central notion of seeing life in a non-anthropocentric way and how alluding to humanity in this way can be a powerful way of raising questions about our place.

The various responses to my work raised the question of whether the works are related to the idea of monsters, something we do not quite understand. Monsters are harmful, I do not see my works as monsters but rather as inhabiting a parallel world, asking the question what if we were not here?

This led to a discussion about the Anthropocene and how my work is an expression of my relationship with the world and view of human relationships, particularly the nature of individual vs individual and individual vs group dynamics.

Language is part of this argument and the image of the Tower of Babel, used in a post on my Research Paper was discussed as bearing a variety of conceptual meanings as a metaphor for difference and variety.

We continued to talk about the study as a means of opening out different elements. The sense of the emotional and rational, the Apollonian and the Dionysian and where I might place my work in relation to these paradigms. The balance appears to be constantly shifting between the material and the idea: how the two exchange during the process of making, what the trigger points might be and how they coexist in a final work. I think that this unresolved internal dialogue becomes resolved as a conversation between two works.

The material itself is neutral and whether the rational or irrational predominates is a function of how it is approached. Which predominates is part of the selection process as it is difficult to treat the material of clay with the same philosophies at the same time. It might be possible, but my personal structure prefers to oscillate between the two. The balance between the rational and irrational in a single work could be seen, as being created during the making process by alternating the two approaches. However, as I said earlier, the resolution of the two is expressed as a conversation between works rather than within a single work.

What I appear to be doing is exploring the referencing of ideas through my visual language having created a vocabulary over time. Time during which I have transitioned from working with ideas at a distance to breaking open the carapace of rationality, found in earlier works, to dig deeper beneath the surface to find what lies underneath. And if it is sound, authentic, it might ring a bell in someone else.

At his point we started to talk about how I might lead someone into the work, particularly as the current artist environment is very much centred on the overtly societal and human anthropocentric.

Jonathan sees my work as presenting an ambiguity that encourages investigation. However, a lot of visual culture exemplified by Instagram, with its dangerous description of the world, works against pausing, waiting, taking time. He thinks that sadly, most people will not engage but those that do will be richly rewarded.

I asked Jonathan how explicit does one have to be before becoming didactic (not a good thing) to open out a deeper conversation, how does one signpost possibilities? Is it not our gift to do so and alas a task for the viewer? We agreed this is an impossible question to answer but explored some ways of answering this.

We looked at how the time for ‘demystifying art’ has hopefully passed and how confusion in a gallery is a way of catalysing a conversation in a gallery. We then looked at the importance of titles. Jonathan sees what I do as emotional and the title is the rational companion to it, a balance of the emotional and the rational. This is a very interesting idea and one I have often considered but not quite in this way. A title can be seen, as an entry into the work, a poetic entry. However, there is a caveat: not to overburden the work with a title that closes-down its meaning with the choice of words. Reducing the space for its meaning can damage it as well. Questions such as, ‘What is the Difference’, are good.

This led to the question of Jargon and how it can cover a multitude of misunderstandings and how having simplified my language, I have been able to express complex ideas more clearly. Jonathan suggested that writing about the work, not necessarily explicitly for the reasoned discussed above but as another layer could be an interesting and effective way of rewarding further investigation. I have been thinking of ways to do this. The important thing is not to close the work down with words but rather say, ‘this is my offering to you as to what I was thinking but actually there is a space for you’.

Finally, we looked at how I am planning my work and how there is still plenty of time although my methodology requires careful planning ahead.

Details Regarding Sonic Circumvention

To incorporate into the sculpture or place near it, a subwoofer speaker. Ultra low frequencies at high volume emitted will set the ambience to vibrate. If the speaker is set inside the sculpture, it may set the latter to vibrate. This phenomenological approach could be used for the long suspended piece. Ultra low frequencies ‘appear’ to come from all directions so the placement of the speaker is not critical for its perception. below the sculpture might be a solution if incorporation is not possible. However, incorporation would bring it to life. 

Having the high volume, low frequency on all the time would not be acceptable. A solution presents itself with the use of proximity sensors. Using such devices would introduce an element of interactivity whilst reducing the constant sound to only when it is being viewed. The idea is to place the sensors in such a way that when a person approaches the sculpture, the sound intensifies and the closer the person moves towards it, the louder and more intense is the sound. 

The placement of the speaker is a sculptural, technical problem. How the sensors work carries with it a number of questions that I need to address as soon as possible:

  • what type of sensor to use – motion, light, infrared, microwave etc
  • how many sensors are needed – this question refers to the mode of controlling the sound output
  • how is/are the sensors to be controlled – is an Arduino set up required in which can I need to research this and the coding
  • all the questions lead up to whether a sensor can detect distance and this be translated to variable volume of sound output – is this controlled with the controller or the sensor
  • if variable output is not feasible, can several sensors be used to trigger variable sound

The ideal would be for the sound to increase in volume as a person approaches the sculpture and decrease as they move away. 

Idea for Sonic Circumvention

I have been away from my journal for the last ten days, helping Janet to set up her final show at Camberwell as well as others showing with her. But my mind has not been idle and I have been collecting a number of thoughts regarding work during this period. The insight I have gained regarding how the whole thing works in the context of Camberwell has given me an idea for work. Exhibiting in a group show where each offering is in effect a solo show is challenging. This is particularly the case with sound, an integral part of many digitally based works. In many cases earphones are the solution but some consider the ambient phenomenon an essential part of their work, whether conceptually, aesthetically or just to attract attention. Having this in mind, for next year and other similar situations I am considering using particular bands of the frequency range to circumvent the sonic clutter (and traffic noise) of the group environment, without affecting the latter significantly. In order to deliver this final point, I am considering the use of sensors that modulate the viewer-work interaction periodically. For now I wish to keep this idea private since, if it were to become a meme, its singular affect would be lost. 

Mythopoeia IV

 

I have been very busy of late and my current work is in a state of incompletion, so I am glad to have just completed a video to accompany a small sculptural work for the interim Summer show at Camberwell. Its simplicity has given me the space to think about a deep level aspect of what I am doing. The narrative in the words of the scrolling text are deliberately anachronistic. I worked on the few words in various versions: directed in the you and I form, playing with tenses, making the content more or less personal. Finally I ended in the place where my instincts had led me to start; with the intention to distance myself from the subject whilst bringing it into direct contact with me in the present as I reflect on its future set in the past. Bringing together the deep past, present and future is very much what my research statement is about albeit taking a narrow field of view. It is interesting how this synchronicity occurs from time to time. 

 

Skype Chat 3.5: Research Statement 2

Today we went over some other research statements. What constantly comes to mind is the need to avoid jargon as one develops an idea. I used to use jargon a lot and quite honestly, as I have mentioned before, it does nothing but obscure meaning and prevent clarity of exposition and explication. If a complex idea is explained in simple words, it more often than not open out pathways which were previously barred. Jargon and technical language really serve as shorthand and I try to use only one the idea is fully formed or after have introduced a definition in context. Of course it is not always possible to do this but it is a very good discipline to nurture and develop. It has made me more critical and saved me from a lot of bull shit I might have come up with otherwise. 

Other things that came to mind during the session are as follows:

  1. Writing started as a mystical act which changed into pragmatic bureaucracy.
  2. Distinguishing between the real and the virtual needs a defined idea of what is real and virtual much as for the difference between the natural and the artificial. It enters the area of discerning what is true and what is false. Truth and falsehood. As far as art is concerned, I cannot deal with absolute truths, reality or any other such paradigms. I can only deal with tropes and morality or values. Tropes are cognitive comparators and morality is culturally relative, unless one accepts certain inalienable and self evident ideas. It all becomes very difficult to argue in the face of contrary views. I have grown to think that authenticity and integrity, at least for me, are the more important conditions for an artist. And out of this arise observations and descriptions created with tropes that bear some relevance to life.
  3. In order to distinguish between two things, to think only in terms of comparison makes things harder without its sister contrast. Similarities tell you something about why it is difficult to distinguish between those given things but it does tell you why one is considering them as different. Contrasting on the other hand tells you why they cannot be the same and perhaps whether they differ by degree or in kind. 
  4. When comparing and contrasting two ideas, objects or events, it is as well to consider any new insights or notions that this might lead to. 
  5. Regarding a hobby horse of mine: the word ‘issue’ is much used instead of ‘problem’. I remember when all this issue about issue started, it was a way of thinking positively about something harmful rather than negatively and therefore more approachable in terms of a solution. However, I think it has gone too far and serious circumstances have become issues. Issues are really topics for debate and the word does not necessarily demand solution. So I now like to think of problems as something to confront and issues… you can take them or leave them.
  6. Looking for examples before having formed a clear idea of what they are mean to show can sometimes make it hard to find them. I find it is a good idea to look for the large things such as principles and work my way down until I find examples. It is about taking care of the large things and the details will take care of themselves. It is much harder to construct generality from the particular. However, one small caveat to that is when tidying, I always find I need to deal with the small things first in order to clear the decks for arranging the large things. 

Finally I need to prepare some files for the ‘Impromptu’ show at Two Girls Gallery by next Monday (17 June) – A3 files.

Site and Touch: Molyneux’s Problem

I came across an article about the 300 year old Molyneux’s Problem regarding the relationship between sight and touch as it concerns internal world building. This is something that has come to my mind many times in terms of the aesthetics of three dimensional objects and my approaches in making something tangible. 

What was once taken as purely a thought experiment due to the impossibility of giving sight to someone congenitally blind has now been presented with an empirically verifiable solution. 

In 2011 Richard Held and Dr. Pawan Sinha leading a team at Project Prakash (Prakash mean light in Sanskrit) demonstrated that which Locke had intuited. That the cognitive association between touch and sight have to be learnt and are not hard wired in our brains.

The experience of shape in each sense is independent of the other and they are not associated from birth. A congenitally blind person being given sight would not recognise a cube, say, on seeing it for the first time even if they were offered an identical one for comparison. However, they would soon learn to relate what they experience through touch with what they see. This seems self evident enough but it was not verifiable until recently with advances in eye surgery and indeed many thinkers thought otherwise. Look up dear old Bishop Berkeley: yes the one that thought if you turned your back on something it disappeared.  

How does this affect my ideas about making? I work a great deal with touch through my hands. I have been aware that if I were not able to see the composition of a work it would be very different using touch alone. The aesthetic qualities that would arise out of working blind would pertain to another world; one in which light is alien and the mind would navigate and construct form in quite a different way. 

 

 

I have often referred to navigating form in my mind with an inner eye, moving around the object in question in a virtual world. Although I am not using my eyes this ‘sighted’ world relies on having experienced sight. How different this would be had I been congenitally blind. So imagining being able to create in the absence of light experience would be well nigh impossible

 

 

 

Research Statement in Plain English

 

I have condensed the initial ideas for the research statement into as plain English as I can. This may help me see what lies ahead more clearly and explain what I am doing. After all, if I were not able to talk about the subject in an accessible way, what would it say about my understanding of it?

 

The Genesis and Proliferation of Natural and Virtual Monsters

The ways by which things come about in different areas of life often appear to bear little resemblance to one another. But if you look closely enough you can see that they often share processes that, regardless of the what, where and when, give comparable results if not the same: biology and art are no exceptions despite their very great differences. I am looking at correlations between how large animals evolved – the number of body parts, their shape and the way they are put together – and the creation of the mixed up creatures described in art, religious texts, mythologies and other imaginings. There are strong connections between the ways these real and imaginary animals evolved and spread in nature and across cultures. My research statement will explore the similarities between these processes and their conditions helping to understand how the digital world might influence the creation of future composite mythological beings.

Throughout the time humans have been on this planet, the overwhelming majority of imagined creatures have been what could be called intuitive forms. That is to say, they come readily to mind, eating, breathing, moving and living emotional lives, much in the way we do. However, with the arrival of non-living mechanisms such as computers and their programmes the question arises, what forms might such artificial creators bring forth? Virtual or real, these new organisms might not be readily recognised. as such by we humans. They might well be described as non-intuitive creatures, in other words not coming easily to mind, alien.

A very long time ago, over 500 million years in fact, the world was a very different place. The environment was changing radically, opening out new opportunities for early complex life to evolve new forms or body plans. This was the time of the Cambrian explosion when genetics and the oxygenation of Earth were great driving forces that led to the rise of totally new animal body plans and ways of living. Free movement, predation, heads with sensory organs were formed during this time. Moving forward half a billion years, the world was still changing but in different ways. Ice Age glaciers had long receded and gradually people started to live in large cities leaving their old hunter gathered ways of living, embracing the new sophisticated urban centres in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, the Indus basin and the Far East. This changing social environment also brought with it opportunities in which different ideas and beliefs could come together and forge new mythological beings. They grew in number, variety and extension during the Early Bronze Age, promoted by ever greater and finer divisions of labour, growing trade and the invention of writing. These composite creatures like chimaeras and sphinxes breathed, reproduced and lived emotional lives much as we do. These two means of creation share a great deal in fundamental processes despite their very obvious differences.

Today we are on the threshold of another new world, one we share with machines. Machines affect us profoundly and it seems reasonable to predict that their intelligence may also, in the not too distant future, conjure new mythological beings. Present day conditions too can be seen as corresponding to those of the Cambrian and Bronze Age. However, the internal processes of artificial intelligence are rapidly becoming a mystery even to those that create the programmes. If artificial intelligences were to one day create their own mythological beings, what form might they take? One could say that the old familiar creatures are intuitive to our sensibilities but would we even recognise the new non-intuitive artifices as virtual or living organisms? How would we react to them, with fear, revulsion, wonder, understanding or even empathy?

Initial Hypothesis: Research Statement

I prefer to use the term hypothesis to thesis because what I am proposing in the research statement constitutes a series of inferences with wider implications in different contexts inviting further investigation whilst maintaining a tight focus on the subject matter.  

The following summary makes a series of assumptions that will be dealt with in the paper.

Hypothesis

  • That the process by which the increase and proliferation of the depiction of composite creatures in art is partially analogous to the life processes giving rise to body plan diversity in fauna
  • that this proliferation is catalysed and facilitated by novel ways of encoding information
  • that composite creatures arise spontaneously under conditions where an increase in ‘ecological’ niches occurs;
  • that this process is neither dependent on substrate nor content, that is to say it is algorithmic.

Theoretical Context

  • Daniel C Dennett’s idea of algorithm 
  • David Wengrow’s hypothesis, ‘The origin of monsters: Image and cognition in the first age of mechanical reproduction’.

Temporal Context

  • The Cambrian Explosion
  • Early Bronze Age Civilisations
  • Late Medieval Period
  • C20th and C21st information and communication culture including digital

Summary

The paper will explore correspondences between the radiation of diversity of body plans in fauna during the Cambrian Explosion and the proliferation of composite creatures in art production during the early bronze age city civilisations. The paper will focus on the role of HOX genes and the emergence of writing as corresponding ways of encoding information capable of responding to changing conditions as well as the increase in ecological complexity in both contexts. It will also look at the recombination of modular components of information that give rise to novel composites and their spread in the environment as catalysed by an increase in kinetic modes such as motility in fauna and trade and migration in human societies. The process of expansion and diversification of ecological niches in fauna and increase in the complexity and diversity of division of labour in urban settings will be considered as an important contributors creating new environmental conditions that offer increased opportunities.

The implications of the proposed hypothesis will be considered as to its possible effect on contemporary culture, specifically in the context of the digital environment and what the role of AI might be in the creation of hybrid creatures in art; particularly in terms of non-intuitive organisms arising out of inorganic systems and how human perception might receive and contribute to such a scenario. 

Hieronymous Bosch may also be considered as a bridge between the Early Bronze Age and today in the context of religion. Set in the Late Medieval Period, at the end of ‘The Spiritual Age’, Bosch exemplifies the role of religion and its hermeneutics in generating composite creatures in a novel way within a changing information environment (religion, trade, exploration, writing in vernacular, printing, etc), crossing the boundary between intuitive and the non-intuitive notions, through imaginative speculations that offer diverse symbolic representations of composite creatures.

Skype Chat 3.2: Jonny Briggs

Link to Youtube video

Jonny Briggs work is firmly embedded in photography despite being informed by his perception of the medium’s inadequacies. Although he has worked hard to break free from traditional paradigms, it nevertheless continues a long tradition of constructed tropes and illusions.

His work is sensitively conceived through the optics of his own psychology and familial relations. Although at times he has moved away from this tight subject matter towards a more general view of things, he always gravitates towards the nuclear family both for subject matter and technical assistance: this seems to be where his strengths lie for the moment. Though the images may be appreciated without explanation, a fuller knowledge of their genesis and background makes them all the more engaging. 

His carefully constructed images always leave clues as to their artificial nature confessing their falsity in an honest declaration of that fact. This partial unveiling of the inversions between what is authentic and what is not  can only be a form of authenticity itself. This is a case in which knowledge of the subject matter and artist benefits the work and does not detract from the trope but rather adds a further layer to its fabric.

The simplicity of his repertoire possesses a freshness which is in tension with an undeniable claustrophobia. This may evolve into something else in time with life’s experiences. 

Research Statement: Preliminary Title

   

A preliminary title is an uneasy mapping out of a journey towards an idea without necessarily knowing the best route. This preliminary title is somewhat long winded but it does contain the elements of subject area, context and argument which may well serve as a condensed abstract. The fact that it will need pruning goes without saying but a kernel of an idea does reside in its immature state.

Composite body plans and their proliferation: A comparative examination of the algorithmic increase and propagation of hybrid creatures in the Cambrian, Early Bronze Age, Late Medieval Period and the Digital Environment in the context of D. C. Dennett’s definition of algorithm and D. Wengrow’s archeo-anthropological hypothesis ‘the origin of monsters’. 

This is basically looking at how analogous outcomes can arise from disparate cultural and biological substrates and what this might say about ongoing contemporary developments. I see the Late Medieval element, seen through the optics of Hieronymous  Bosch, as a bridge from the ancient to the modern. However, I need to think about the length of the RS and it may prove too much to weave Bosch’s particular narrative into the whole: his hermeneutic influences may be too mono-cultural relative to the other areas under examination providing an antithesis to the general thesis of the cultural and biological emergence of composite creatures or so called monsters which, it could be argued, depend on more complex environmental conditions. Nevertheless, as a counter argument it creates an interesting dialectic which unfortunately may be beyond the constraints of 3000 to 4000 words.

Skype Chat 3.1 – An Introduction to the Research Statement

 The first Skype chat of the third term was an introduction to the Research Statement.

Research Statement Brief

Using Zotero

The following are additional observations regarding writing such a document.

The RS can take many forms so long as the central methodology is based on critical thinking. For example, it can take the form of a dialectic or the stepwise construction of a hypothesis to be tested. In the current context of the MA tested in the realisation of the project proposal. 

The RS could deal with any area of interest but it would be a good idea to make it useful in terms of relating it to my practice with a link to the project proposal.

To make the RS distinct from the area of interest with respect to the PP would be to loose the main benefits of writing such a paper which I would summarise as follows:

  • build a framework on which to base the PP and final project outcome 
  • creating a conceptual platform/framework, wholly or partially, on which to base future work
  • contributing to my artist’s statement and other forms of presentation
  • contextualising my practice
  • and perhaps start the process of outlining a statement of intent for a doctoral thesis

Both a research statement and a research paper contain a developed argument. However, a RS is not quite a research paper but more something that might be presented at an academic conference: 3000 – 4000 words represents a presentation of around 20 to 30 minutes. It is more a description of an intended area of research or of the context in which one’s practice/research is placed but not about it. On the other hand, a paper is more likely to document an element of some actual research focused on ones own practice. 

Writing objectively, outside my practice can positively impact on it:

  • developing a critical articulation of what I do
  • building meaning into work
  • broadening and deepening the context of work 
  • writing generates – as Jonathan says – contexts. It is actually hard to find a context that is coherent and articulable, particularly without thinking about it critically all the time. The MA has set the context for constant analysis and thought running alongside making which has helped immensely in developing a contextual framework (which is in constant development).
  • A corollary of this is that theoretical thinking, reflection, introspection, observation, etc can stimulate the production of work and not simply be its post-production explanation. 

This latter point is very important but it is also important that the area of research or theory, should sustain my interest. 

A useful algorithm Jonathan gave us to formulate a research question:

  • Find a broad subject area
  • Narrow this interest to a specific topic
  • Question that topic from several viewpoints
  • Choose the question whose answer is the most significant to you

The blog journal has been immensely useful in finding patterns of thoughts helping to identify the subject area. I feel as though I have already gone through this process of selecting and filtering. During the Skype chat I took away a very useful approach. That two or more ideas can be looked at in the context of a third idea perhaps suggesting a thesis which can then be further examined.

I would like this to be the case for my RS: to extract a thesis or more correctly a hypothesis; in art nothing can be proven, only argued and subjectively appreciated. If it were to hold under critical evaluation I would be very pleased. In truth, what I have in mind is more a set of correlations between causal circumstances that have certain conditions in common. These conditions are not substrate dependent and can contribute to the described outcome spontaneously. Not being the whole picture I would say that what I am looking at is a partial algorithm, a part driver in the given process. 

For One and for the Other

 

I welded this simple frame for another project, Logos, intended for working with its maquettes. Yesterday I took hold of it to photograph the latest zoan-like model. I wanted to isolate the work from surfaces in order to minimise cleaning up in photoshop. This worked on the level of convenience but there was also an unintended outcome.

Repurposing something I had made, led to a meaningful  solution for display as I mentioned in Between two Worlds. This way of working at times results in the surfacing of underlying ways of thinking and working which in turn can lead to new thoughts and ideas whilst maintaining a focused continuity of source.

Although this is a relatively small piece of metalwork, it is easily scaled up for an installation where there are no means of suspension from an architectural structure. In such a case, it could be, would need to be shaped into the idea/philosophy of the work itself. 

Between Two Worlds

What is this, I ask myself? As I made it I felt an unease as it extended its reach physically and formally. The other models in porcelain are clearly zoan but this is different, a hybrid perhaps between animal and artefact, biology and ritual.

And the way I photographed it, suspended by fine cords, gives me an idea for presenting that moves away from the wall, pedestal, plinth, stand, case, cabinet, table top, floor. Fragility, underlined by the immersion in a field of tension, defined by the slender threads, a psychological state between the din of kinetic energy and the repressed quiet of potential energy. 

 

 

The above series of images is a reminder regarding a recent idea to create 3D animations. I have thought about photogrammetry too which, however, seems to yield imprecise renderings far too often for me to give it the time. In any case , it is all about photographing what I have already made in the flesh, so to speak. I prefer to invent and for this I turn to Blender which is convincingly versatile with high specifications, offering tight control… and it is free.

What is the Difference etc

   

Yesterday I started a small scale study in porcelain – no larger than twenty centimetres in its largest dimension – for H’s playthings in porcelain. What I show here is the first stage, the plasma. It is small so I can quickly assess its outcome before investing more time in how to proceed on a larger scale. The question for now, is whether to move in the direction of a baroque, visceral rendition or a more schematic, symbolic one. I am thinking that the former might be too ‘noisy’ for it to be receptive to a sound element in the work. 

I feel that the two approaches are different aspects of what I am looking to express. This makes me think that there is space for both to coexist, a conversation contextualised in the transition from a mass population engaged in an ecology and the symbolic representation of each class type. The former an animated, raw, poietic emergence from inside me, the living expression of thought. The latter a cerebral aesthetic product, distanced, engaging on another level. Can the two ways be reconciled and merged or are they mutually exclusive? 

Not all bodies of work need to be homogeneous. I have talked of heterogeneity before, it represents the outer layer of deeper commonalities. Multitudes exist within one idea, am I to be restrained by the aesthetics of conformity? This may be my own prejudice: the need to replicate serially to create distinct bodies of work. 

It may be possible to combine the two in synchronous dialogue, resolving a dialectic within a single work. A transition from raw to refined, from animated foam to schematic idolatry. After all, I am looking for a myth and myths are about origins, creation.

Studies for H

A chronological series of six pen and ink sketches for the H project

These are studies done not for the way the sculpture might look but to exercise in what spirit I will approach its making. I see part of this making as painting. Pen and ink is ideal for this, its fluidity and indelibility require seeing ahead a fraction of a moment before committing to the paper surface. And older than paper, its manufacture, a step away from charcoal belies its sophistication. Artists in the past have used this as a tool for analysis, for its closeness to painting: ink is liquid, applied with a brush of sorts, the unforgiving rigid point the focus of decision. The act of drawing with pen and ink is akin to delineating the boundary between the passages in a painting thereby creating a virtual line only that this line is the embodiment of something that does not actually exist. To do this needs an analysis and understanding of the line’s function in relation to what is being drawn must be done without inhibition or hesitation if the form is to come alive. In the case of sculpture, which deals with weight, pen and ink can express the lightest of touches as well as the heaviest of masses. Its calligraphy is a language inflected and nuanced by where and how the ink is placed and the freedom acquired can equally be translated into other mediums. 

Only in the penultimate sketch did I use pencil as a preliminary. Doing so disrupted the rhythm but more importantly, resulted in a drawing lacking in invention probably on account of the forms coming more from the head and less from a more visceral centre. Below is the initial sketch in biro I made a few days earlier featured in my previous post.

 

 

Research Statement: A Start

Six months ago I started with a loose pool of ideas flowing from existential themes. My main aim since then has been to find a cogent argument that reflects my various interests and that could place in different arenas. This quest has been exciting if onerous; I have gone down many wandering pathways. However, I also have had to discipline my thoughts within a varied practice since many of my ideas emerge synchronously with my practice and two years is not that long to develop a coherent trajectory. I know that the Research Statement will need to be started soon and that it needs to be well conceived at the outset in order to avoid time consuming blind allies during the Summer months, a period good for making. 

In view of the upcoming RS, I have looked at the problem both taxonomically and mereologically, reductively and holistically. The tension between these two ways of organising thoughts has helped me identify those ideas and practices that would fit a tight set of self imposed requirements: 

  • original
  • cogent
  • flexible and focused
  • contemporary
  • leading to a project proposal and higher research
  • poetic

A thesis emerged ten days ago in conversation with Janet, not by logical deduction but in moment of gestalt in which I saw a bigger picture. With few words I was able to state the obvious precipitated out of the wanderings and writings I have done over the past six months. But how could I be sure this would hold together? I wrote a preliminary abstract or outline of the thesis in a surprisingly short amount of time, much shorter than the time it has taken me to get this far on this post. Since then I have been able to add content and ideas without disturbing cogency. I was concerned about having to read scores of papers and dozens of books in search of an idea. Instead, I know where to go and what to read for corroborative material and help to shape the argument. 

I shall write about the RS in future post but for now I wish to continue with what I am doing. Instead I have opened a folder for placing material separate to the blog. Today (yesterday) I went to Doncaster to buy materials, time flies.

Briefly the RS tries to bring together in artistic thought:

  • The Cambrian Explosion
  • Early Bronze Age civilisations in the Fertile Crescent
  • Medieval thinking
  • Science fiction
  • Myths
  • The digital environment 
  • Coding of information
  • Algorithmic development and chaotic order

Studies in Artificiality

I have seldom used glazes when working with ceramic material; I usually concentrate on form and light and find that colour can place strong unwanted overtones on a work. In the Zoan series however, I want to emphasise the symbolic and psychological over the naturalistic and biological with the intention of placing these works firmly in the human sphere. I see the use of highly coloured, glass-like glazes as a way of suggesting a sense of artificiality. 

The above image is one of a number of monochrome photographs I am colouring as preliminary sketches. The result is not the same as the specular surface of glazes but it does give me an idea. I could alternatively paint the sculptures but having tried this in the past, I have found that painting ceramics obscures the surface qualities of the material and defeats the object of using it. It might be something for larger scale work but not for more intimate pieces.